The Rehabilitative Impact Of Social Enterprises

Part 4 in a blog series exploring a community-based response to our criminality crisis

Curator’s note: Peterborough Dialogues welcomes Ralph Gutkin in a blog series exploring an alternative response to the criminality crisis which currently strains society financially and emotionally. His blogs will move through the depths of the concern into what can our region can do about it.

It is generally recognized that employment (and appropriate training/education) are crucial components in the successful reintegration following a jail sentence. As outlined in the Huffington Post blog to which I previously referred. “Those who return from prison and get jobs are far more likely to keep from going back to prison. If an ex-offender can get a job, so many of the other important factors for a successful return fall into place: income, housing, food are some of the obvious tangible benefits, and self-esteem, a structured lifestyle, and a foothold for the future are equally if not more profoundly impactful.”

Wouldn’t it be exciting to take the very best ideas, the greatest achievements of all of these social enterprises and add in a different business model that would bolster the experience of the ex-offender in turning his/her life around and in reinforcing the underpinnings of reintegration and rehabilitation?

In Canada and the U.S., there is a track record of funding social enterprise programs that provide life and job skills training, work experience and assistance in finding ‘permanent’ employment for inmates and ex-offenders. Some operate within the prison institution including those who provide a ‘through the gate’ opportunity while others are entirely within the community. Two examples of that, north of the border, are KLINK Coffee in Toronto and Stella’s Circle in St. John’s, N.L. KLINK Coffee’s website describes their program as:

“KLINK assists individuals in removing barriers to entering the workforce. As a John Howard Society of Toronto social enterprise, KLINK works especially with clients coming out of the criminal justice system. Employment readiness training is offered by an employment specialist and covers topics such as work attitudes, employer expectations, long term employment behaviour patterns, job search skills, interview skills, budgeting, and credit scores. In addition, clients are trained in topics such as disclosing a criminal record, institutional gaps in a client’s resume, and the rights of a job seeker.

Following the employment readiness training, the client has the option of entering into a work placement ranging from 4 weeks to 4 months in the coffee industry. Some placements have led to clients permanently working for our employment partners… Skills and knowledge in the coffee industry, in addition to work experience and a reference, help set individuals on the right foot when entering the job market and leaving the criminal justice system.”

Stella’s Circle’s social enterprise ventures include The Hungry Heart Café which offers training to help people enter the food service industry as cooks, servers, or kitchen staff. Both enterprises are featured in an inspiring video displayed on KLINK Coffee’s website (scroll down to the middle of the page) which is produced by Corrections Canada entitled “Engaging the Community”. The value of such ventures is alternately stressed by Sonya Spencer of the John Howard Society of Toronto and the two representatives of Corrections Canada and of Employment and Social Development Canada, all of whom extol the virtues of the partnerships created through inter-governmental and community collaborations.

There are numerous examples of such programs in the U.S. including the Delancey Street Foundation which started in San Francisco and which has been in operation for over 45 years (its website has a lot of useful/interesting information — be prepared to spend some time navigating it), Project Return and the Fortune Society. The posting on Project Return’s site compares its 13.7 per cent recidivism rate for former offenders who completed its program to the national average of 50 per cent. The Fortune Society reports that its programs helped participants avoid over 88,000 days in jail and prison in one year, saving the City and State of New York over $8 million.

For all of the good that these social enterprises certainly provide, my discussions with the directors of a couple of local social service agencies and with the manager of another, highlight the precariousness of these ventures. They tend to be non self-sustaining requiring a continuous infusion of money. Problems arise if a need has been created and the doors have to be closed due to a lack of funding.

Wouldn’t it be exciting to take the very best ideas, the greatest achievements of all of these social enterprises and add in a different business model that would bolster the experience of the ex-offender in turning his/her life around and in reinforcing the underpinnings of reintegration and rehabilitation?

Starting with my next post, we’ll look at the worker co-op model and why we should be investing in it.

Part 1 — Exploring a Community-based Response to our Criminality Crisis

Part 2 — Understanding Systemic Contributors to Crime and Recidivism 

Part 3 — Successful Reintegration Requires Community Support

Part 5 — A Co-operative Approach to Reintegration

Part 6 — Worker Co-op Model Proving Supportive of Rehabilitation

Part 7 — The Resilience of and Success Markers for Worker Co-ops

Part 8 — A ‘Delicious Idea’ for a Worker Co-op In Peterborough

Part 9 — Co-creating a Restorative Community